Arts festivals are not just the glue that helps entertain and unite different types of people, they can also be key drivers of the economy, says an international expert in the field.
British creative economy adviser Josephine Burns has been in Perth to lend her expertise as government, business and arts leaders look to make the most of events such as Fringe World, which has been in full swing ahead of tomorrow's official opening of the Perth International Arts Festival.
Ms Burns is assessing the Fringe's social and economic impact on the city and its inroads with new audiences and opportunities for local artists.
Her consultancy BOP recently completed the first significant study of the impact of festivals in Edinburgh, the arts festival capital of the world.
The consultancy also has been helping organisers of this year's London Olympics find ways to use arts and culture to make sure the Games precinct does not become a soulless wasteland after the athletes and officials have gone home.
The value of festivals was incalculable beyond the dollars and cents, Ms Burns said, but visitors to Edinburgh spent $35 each for every $1 in public subsidy, her study of last year showed.
She said the measurable noneconomic "festival effect" included how festivals inspired young people, a greater overall arts participation and enhanced civic identity, community well-being and attractiveness to visitors.
Fringe World and Perth Festival organisers said Perth could mine the city-building potential of festivals, although on a much smaller scale than Edinburgh, which attracts four million visitors a year.
Ms Burns said this would require greater partnerships between politicians, the business sector and the arts.
"Maximising the impact of events like these is crucial for a city that is looking to attract skilled people from around the country and around the world beyond working in the mines," she said.
The Perth Festival is on track to meet a target of selling nearly 22,000 tickets, totalling $5.02 million. Sponsorships and grants complete its budget of $15.7 million.
"It is a good position to be in at the time we open," festival general manager Julian Donaldson said.
An impact study has not been done on the Perth Festival but the Sydney Festival, which is of a similar size and budget, has been shown to inject $50 million into the city's economy, Mr Donaldson said.
The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry's business solutions manager Lindsay O'Sullivan, who is also on the board of Fringe World organiser Artrage, said attracting skilled staff remained a big problem in Perth.
"Something like an arts festival is one of the ways you can create a dynamic, interesting place for people to live and work," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"Festivals won't save an economy if the fundamentals aren't there but they will give people a reason to hang around and stay," he said.
Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi said the capacity to demonstrate significant returns on investment in the arts was vital in a competitive market.
She was keen to see how the BOP research could be used to help retailers, bars, cafes and other businesses take greater advantage of festival time."It is more than the economic impact, though," Ms Scaffidi said. "We aren't ignorant to the other benefits such as capital city status and the feel-good factor which are intangible but harder to report on."
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